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Is "Patient Boarding" Increasing the Risk of Medical Errors?

“Patient boarding,” which refers to the practice of holding patients in the emergency department after they have been admitted to the hospital, continues to be a significant problem in San Diego and across the country. Most importantly, it is putting patient’s medical care at risk.

According to a recent Health Affairs article, nearly 85% of hospitals reported boarding patients in the seven days before the survey, leading to crowded ERs and longer wait times for care. Boarding has also been shown to increase risks to patients by prolonging illnesses, worsening the prognosis for patients with cardiac conditions and stroke, and increasing the risk of hospital-acquired infections and death.

As noted by American Medical News, hospitals have failed to address boarding, despite pressure from federal regulators. While some countries like the United Kingdom have adopted standards limiting boarding for a certain number of hours, the U.S. does not have a similar policy in place. However, it may be needed, according to some experts.

“Hospitals are reacting to the stresses that are on them in terms of getting enough staff, getting beds open, adding more beds,” said Sandra Schneider, MD, past president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “We don’t discount that. We sympathize with them, but the answer is not keeping patients in the ED, because that’s bad for patients.”